Watching Jean-Paul Rappeneau's big World War II drama Bon Voyage is like taking a vivid trip back to the middle of the Twentieth Century. This retro journey is not just because of the detailed Art Deco production design or the Nazis versus Free French storyline. The entire ethos of the film -- its historical sweep, its grand, romantic sensibility and utter lack of postmodern sang-froid -- is so old-fashioned, it's refreshing; Bon Voyage is glorious entertainment.
Set at the onset of the war, Bon Voyage traces the romantic travails of an aspiring novelist, Frederic (Gregori Derangere), who is hopelessly in love with his old amour, narcissistic movie star Viviane Denvers (Isabelle Adjani in perfect casting). Viviane has several men vying for her affections and she manipulates each with exquisite skill. One, though, the backer of her latest film, gets too heavy-handed and he ends up dead in her apartment after -- she says -- an accidental fall. Viviane asks Frederic for help in disposing of the body and like the romantic fool he is, he complies, only to crash the car with the dead man in the trunk. When the man is found to have died from a gunshot, Frederic is sent to prison while Viviane disappears just as war is declared.
Soon the Germans have invaded France and are about to enter Paris. As the population tries to flee, the prisons are opened and Frederic manages to escape with a sardonic prison mate, Raoul (a fine Yvan Attal). The pair hop a train bound for Bordeaux, en route encountering a fleeing nuclear physicist and his young assistant Camille (the lovely Virginie Ledoyen in plain Jane glasses and wool suit), who fear that their top-secret project -- developing an atomic bomb -- will fall into Nazi hands. Raoul takes a shine to Camille and so does Frederic, but he's still obsessed about reuniting with Viviane. Meanwhile in Bordeaux the actress has taken up with Beaufort, the powerful Minister of the Interior (Gerard Depardieu), who plans to help her get out of the country. But when Frederic finds Viviane again, she must help him dodge detection lest her own involvement in the murder be revealed.
While the fate of France -- to resist or to surrender -- is argued among Beaufort and other leaders, a foreign journalist (Peter Coyote) with a sinister secret learns of the professor's nuclear plans. Camille tries to help the physicist flee to England but both are thwarted until Frederic discovers a way to help them; he must choose between doing so and reuniting with Viviane.
Like a classic novel, the complex story line tracks an array of subplots and characters, offering plenty of romance, dramatic twists and turns, and nice doses of humor. Rappeneau, who also co-wrote the screenplay with four other credited writers, manages to keep all the story strands clear while maintaining a crisp pace that never flags, though after successfully driving the story to a nail-biting finale, he adds a long epilogue that almost feels like an alternative happy ending. Rappeneau takes an iconic approach with his stars: Adjani's Viviane is pretty much a sphinxlike cipher, and Depardieu is more impressive in his craggy appearance than in his acting choices. Derangere plays Frederic as a standard lovelorn Pierrot -- you almost expect him to have a tear painted on his cheek -- but he's appealing and dynamic enough to carry the story. The film is blessed with a skilled supporting cast that manages to etch many precise characterizations, often finding humor at surprising moments. In fact it's the non sequiturs and emotional turns, the mélange of high drama, heartache, and comedy, that make Bon Voyage a satisfying throwback to the romantic adventure flicks of the 1940s. -- Ronald Mangravite
Bon Voyage screens at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, January 30, at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, 174 E Flagler St.
Dance Cuba: Dreams of Flight
Any one of the dancers depicted by directors Cynthia Newport, Barbara Kopple, and Boris Iván Crespo in their documentary Dance Cuba: Dreams of Flight could, all alone, be the subject of a fascinating feature. There's Carlos Acosta, a Havana-born b-boy turned principal with the Royal Ballet of London, who yearns for his family and culture while leading a lonely life in England. Then there's Septime Webre, choreographer and artistic director of the Washington Ballet, who visits his mother's homeland for the first time to present a work at the Ballet Festival in Havana based on his family's memories from exile. Then there's the legendary Alicia and Fernando Alonso, Cuba's first couple of classical dance, who made ballet a revolutionary institution (astonishing archival footage shows tutu-clad members of the National Ballet of Cuba performing for factory workers inside a working factory). Finally there are the dancers the Alonsos trained who have left the company and the country to dance in the United States, including Laura Urgelles of the Washington Ballet and prima ballerina Lorna Feijoó of the Boston Ballet. Newport manages to weave their stories together into a single gripping tale.